A new piece of legislation that would rewrite the law governing funds generated by the sale of Florida’s Choose Life license plates is drawing concern from representatives of the pregnancy centers currently receiving money, who argue that some of the changes don’t seem enforceable or, for that matter, fair.
A new piece of legislation that would rewrite the law governing funds generated by the sale of Florida’s “Choose Life” license plates is drawing concern from representatives of the pregnancy centers currently receiving money, who argue that some of the changes don’t seem enforceable or, for that matter, fair. #
The bright yellow “Choose Life” license plates are one of Florida’s top-selling specialty plates, but according to Russ Amerling — secretary of Choose Life, Inc., the nonprofit that created the plate program — in some counties, money made through their sale doesn’t end up in the hands of adoption-friendly organizations till years later. #
In an effort to change that, Amerling reached out to state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. #
“Russ contacted our office and told us about some problems with the distribution of the funds,” says Greg Giordano, Fasano’s chief legislative assistant. “In some counties, probably not intentionally, the money was either not being distributed correctly or not being distributed at all.” #
Following his conversation with Amerling, Fasano filed Senate Bill 196 (.pdf), which would change the law governing “Choose Life” funds — moving them out of the hands of Florida counties, who distribute the funds to organizations that support women giving their babies up for adoption, and directly into the hands of Choose Life, Inc. #
Current law states that organizations receiving less than $500,000 in plate sales are required to submit an attestation that the monies were spent according to law. Organizations that receive in excess of $500,000 in plate sales must have an audit completed and submitted to the department. #
The question for many of those working at pregnancy centers receiving “Choose Life” funds is: Why change the law at all? #
Though there are a few exceptions, “Choose Life” funds seem to have been a boon to Florida pregnancy centers thus far. In Baker County, where Choose Life funds sat collecting interest for a number of years, a new pregnancy center, owned and operated by First Coast Women’s Services, was eventually able to open its doors to provide services to pregnant women who otherwise would have had few options. #
Other, smaller counties, have been less fortunate. Liberty County, for example, made only $2,600 in 10 years of selling “Choose Life” plates. When asked about the status of its “Choose Life” funds, the Liberty County tax collector’s office deferred to Amerling, who says that “it’s highly likely that those funds were sent back to the state until Liberty opens a center.” #
Small counties like Liberty (and their lack of pregnancy centers to which they can distribute the funds) were the impetus to changing the law — yet $2,600 pales in comparison to the $25,000 that Baker County eventually began using to meet the physical needs of pregnant women. #
Another of Fasano’s proposed changes is subtle but seemingly crucial for Choose Life, Inc. #
Current law states that funds made off the plates ultimately go toward helping meet the physical needs of pregnant women who are “committed to placing their children for adoption.” Should it pass, Fasano’s legislation would change the language of the law, mandating that funds go to pregnant women who are “making an adoption plan for their children.” #
According to a representative of a Jacksonville-based pregnancy center whose satellite offices receive funds from the Choose Life plates, this stipulation would be a difficult one to enforce. #
“The bottom line is: You have to be considering adoption,” the woman — who asked to remain anonymous due to her fear of losing funds for her agency — says. ”For instance, right now, we have a girl receiving the funds who are having second thoughts. She’s not completely sure if she wants to give her child up for adoption.” #
According to the representative, telling women that they will have to return money if they decide to keep their baby “may put them under stress, which could lead them to make an entirely different decision concerning their pregnancy.” #
She says that if the law changes, her center may not offer clients “Choose Life” funds: “To tell someone that, if they choose to parent their child, they can’t have that money… wow. That doesn’t seem enforceable.” #
According to Fasano’s aide Giordano, the change in language doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a drastic change in the law. In fact, there seems to be no change in the adoption plan stipulation. “It is my understanding that if the mother, who has made an adoption plan for her child, decides to pull out, she will no longer be eligible to receive funds, but would not have to repay any funds she may have received,” Giordano says. #
When asked about the purpose behind the change in language, Giordano defers to Choose Life, Inc. #
Amerling said in a previous interview that the phrase “making an adoption plan” is preferable to “putting a child up for adoption.” ”We want the phrasing to be inclusive of the birth mother,” he said. “The point is to expand the benefits for her.” #
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